When You Were Young aims to reclaim the music of our misremembered youths from the scratched mix-CDs underneath our car seats. Each edition will cover music the writer loved as a teenager before moving on to “cooler” music, whatever that means. This edition covers the Offspring.
I came kind of late to the Offspring party for certain standards, but I would say the band got to me right on time and exactly when I needed it. It was 1998 in Puerto Rico and we didn’t have any cable television yet in my neighborhood, a barrio in a municipality close to the capital, San Juan. My cousin, who lived an hour away, did. That meant that every week she would leave MTV recording on her VCR overnight for several days and on Sunday, right after lunch with our grandparents, we would trek upstairs to her house and watch all the hours of music videos and Celebrity Deathmatch she had recorded over the week. It was our ritual; our sacred bonding time where we were introduced to the world of boy bands, TRL and everything with which I would become obsessed with over the years, the things that led me into the path of music journalism.
One day, in between learning Britney Spears’ dance moves and fawning over the Backstreet Boys, my cousin -whose friends were in high school rock bands- tells me, super excited: “You’ve gotta check this out! This song is so good!.” She fast-forwarded the tape and put on “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” by the Offspring. As soon as the first drumroll and the “give it to me baby” chorus came on, I kinda lost it and got lost in it. It didn’t really matter that my English was limited at the time and I didn’t really understand what Dexter Holland was saying, everything about the music just called me. After a few listens, I slowly became obsessed with the catchy, jokey melody, the cadence of the guitar riffs, Dexter Holland’s high pitched, throaty voice; it just made me want to get up and dance. Up until then, the only rock music I had danced to was the Beatles with my mom, so this was a revolutionary moment. To me, it was new, quirky, brazen, unapologetic and, most importantly, I felt like it gave me permission to go my own way when it came to music. Hey, living in the heyday of underground and reggaeton, steering away from it was pretty transgressive.
My cousin ended up buying Americana a few weeks later and ripped it to a cassette tape for me. I listened to it nonstop, sometimes on my walkman on the way to school or blasted it through the speakers until my radio ate the tape and I had to buy a copy of my own at one of the few record stores that had it. I listened with ignorance for a while longer. When I finally got the lyrics booklet and started reading along, my appreciation for the Offspring started to change little by little. My cousin and I started to research all the cultural references we had missed in “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” in a team effort to understand them. But soon I realized “Pretty Fly…” was the easy one, in a record full of personal stories about loss, alienation, pain and even social commentary. This understanding didn’t come with just “research” though, as I entered the 7th grade class of a catholic school and became the weird, chubby girl who couldn’t fit in to save her life, understanding those themes came from experience.
Listening to Americana suddenly became a way to save myself in the midst of a massive teenage unraveling. After having my diary stolen, Harriet the Spy-style, finding out through ruthless classmates that my friends called me all of sorts of things behind my back and enduring relentless bullying for better part of the year, the Offspring resonated with me in ways no other music had before. “Have You Ever” became a personal anthem, a rude awakening about how the real world operated; “Staring at the Sun”, a battle cry for action. It took me years to understand that becoming a pariah of sorts would be the best thing to happen to me…ever. I started rejecting everything I knew as I understood it, dove head first into punk and started in on the path that would lead me to journalism and studying the culture around popular music.
After moving to a new school and bonding with my first crush over our shared love of “Conspiracy of One” (sharing headphones at recess and all), I realized I wanted to know more. So I went back into their discography, basked in the punk rock glory and anger of Smash which, to me, it's still one of their best and most socially conscious records. It’s shamelessly angry, opinionated and consequential. They appealed to the anger in me and they spoke to me in my language. They weren't condescending and, more importantly, they were my introduction to punk and hardcore, my gateway to new ideas and a new way of viewing myself and my position in the world. They kept me digging to what would become my musical (and political) diet well unto college: Bad Religion, Rancid, Tiger Army, Anti-Flag, and on it goes.
The Offspring was one of those bands that meant everything to me growing up. It could’ve been any other band, but I would be lying if I said otherwise. When I listened to them, I felt and I felt a lot, but I guess what has stuck around more in my mind was the way they made me feel understood when I thought nobody had my back at all. I can’t say I really listen to their music anymore, something about it makes me feel old, and I indeed moved onto other genres. I hate to say it, but education killed them a bit for me. But I will never be shamed to say I was -and in some ways still am- a fan. For me, the Offspring’s music has entered the realm of real nostalgia, for the times when I was even more idealistic, when I thought I knew exactly where I was going, who I wasn’t going to be and what I was fighting for; when I wore my status as an outcast with pride and I was fearless. In a way, their music, the way it was written, the way Dexter Holland’s strained voice sounded like the howl of a lone wolf -it made me want to be stronger and better, not just for me, but for everyone out there like me.